|I’ve long been an admirer of Leslie Connor, an award-winning middle-grade author whose characters have always stayed with me after reading the last page of the book. Her latest, The Truth According to Mason Buttle, is no exception. It’s a finalist in the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and I think deserves to win. (I’m prejudiced because I loved it.) The results will be announced on Wednesday, November 14, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The character of Mason is unique in juvenile fiction, as far as I know, and yet he’s someone recognizable to all of us. Read on to find out more.
GC: You’ve written many middle-grade novels. For this one, which came first – the character, Mason Buttle, or the plot idea?
LC: My stories generally start with a situation—an element of nonfiction, such as a news report, or an event I have observed or read about. My imagination does a lot of work on that seed idea, bending it this way and that. If it’s a story-worthy idea, a character shows up—usually in my ear—and I go from there. In truth, that character has often already been kicking around the attic of my brain for quite a while. I’ve heard it said that character is plot. I have to agree; I never know either plot or character completely until I bring them together.
GC: You’ve captured Mason’s voice in an extraordinary and highly readable way. Do you know someone with these kind of learning difficulties, and characteristics (honesty, emotional synesthesia) or did Mason appear fully-formed from your imagination?
LC: Thank you! Mason is definitely a composite. I’ve always been able to pick out the kid in a classroom who is having a different experience from their peers. I know about some learning disabilities firsthand, but synesthesia was new to me. When I saw Mason Buttle in my mind’s eye, I knew what he was experiencing but I had to do some research to diagnose him.
GC: How would you characterize the main themes of the book? What would you like young people to take away from it?
LC: This question is difficult for me to answer. I’m not thinking about themes when I’m writing. For me, the most prevalent character traits (always tied to theme, right?) that emerged here are: self-reliance and honesty. Takeaways from this read might include empathy, compassion, and an increased sense of self-worth.
GC: For writers interested in writing for middle-grade – what makes an MG book different from a chapter book, YA novel, or an adult novel, for that matter?
LC: Writers are creative beings and lines are blurred, when it comes to formats. For instance, we see novels in verse and graphic novels for both the YA and MG audiences. So what separates them? For me, the single most important determinant of genre lies in the level of self and social awareness of the main character—no matter the age, no matter the topic.
GC: Your last two books have had a boy as the main protagonist. Are you planning anything with a girl as the featured character?
LC: Yes! I was surprised to be writing from a young male point of view, but the characters came to me an authentic way, and so far, I haven’t heard that they don’t work! (I chalk that up to having grown up between two brothers and having raised two sons.) My latest book (under contract) features a female protagonist, and in fact, there are very few males in this new story.
Oh the excitement! When to Now, the time travel anthology, is out tomorrow, October 1, and I have a story in it. But I’m not the only one, and the variety and quality of the other seventeen stories prompted me … Continue reading
First things first: Several of our members will be at the Westport Library’s Makers’ Faire tomorrow, April 21, with their books. Among them are: Kristen Ball, Sheryl Kayne, Ann Lineberger, and yours truly. Come and talk to us, and check out the books. There’s no obligation to buy (though we always love that!).
To honor National Poetry Month, I’m starting with poets. Member Alison McBain has put together a list of poetry workshops and readings, open to everyone. She and member Ed Ahern have started the Poets Salon Meetup, which takes place once a month, and where you can take your poetry for critique. Sign up for monthly reminders of meetings, and to connect with fellow poets. Ed also offers helpful suggestions on where to submit, etc, on the Meetup site.
The Writer’s Group meets on the first and second Saturday of the month from 2-4pm in Bridgeport.
And on April 26, Alison McBain will be reading her work at 7:30pm at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. The event marks the launch of the book: Aftermath: Explorations of Love and Grief, Check the happening out here.
The Westport Writers’ Workshop, which runs writing classes, is now offering a series of one-day classes, beginning this Saturday, April 21. They include Icing the Cake, The Power of ‘What If,’ Writing Through Motherhood, and Navigating the Publishing World. For a full list, see here.
The Nonfiction Writers Online Conference takes place from May 2-4 from 12pm-6pm. It looks as though it’s designed largely for those who’ve self -published, since a great deal of the focus is on how to market your book. The keynote speaker is Gretchen Rubin, talking about Habits, Happiness and Productivity for writers, and sessions include Effective Hybrid Publishing, Reach Millions with an Audiobook Presentation and Create Your Own Book Tour. You can check out the agenda online, and if you book by April 28, Sandra Beckwith of Build Book Buzz is offering a 35% discount off the fee of $125. Use her exclusive coupon code – BBB35
If you have a manuscript and you’re ready to take it to the next level, member Veronique Klemow suggests The Manuscript Academy. This online site offers various srvices for authors, ranging from a ten-minute phone meeting, with one page (your query or first page) read during the meeting, for $49, to critiques of your first 50/100 pages for $240/$480 respectively. They’ll critique your synopsis and proposal, too. Veronique felt the money was well spent.
Those of you looking for editors might want to take a look at Joanna Penn’s blog post on The Creative Penn. She lists a number of online resources from Winning Edits, to The Book Butchers. ‘We slaughter your writing, so it can rise in glory from the ashes.‘ There has to be someone on that list who’s right for you
A useful and free resource for finding places to submit is the weekly email from
Submittable. They list different types of publications and tell you whether they pay or not.
And finally, a quote via Alex McNab: You expect far too much of a first sentence. Think of it as analogous to a good country breakfast: what we want is something simple, but nourishing to the imagination. Hold the philosophy, hold the adjectives, just give us a plain subject and verb and perhaps a wholesome, nonfattening adverb or two.—LARRY McMURTRY
We had another great meeting yesterday, with several new members, who contributed their points of view – something we value. And the WritersMic Meetup the night before had 11 enthusiastic readers plus guests. I wasn’t able to be there, but member Sheryl Kayne took over the duties of MC, to general acclaim. Thanks, Sheryl!
I’m going to begin the update with some events that are happening very soon.
Dr Suzanne Hoover, a former master teacher at Sarah Lawrence is giving a class on Endings, (how to end your novel) this Saturday, May 20th, from 2-4pm at the Westport Writers’ Workshop.
Also on May 20th, from 11-12.45, Patrick McCord is offering a FREE introductory class at Write Yourself Free in Westport. He has a specific method that can help you structure your writing to make for a better book. Although their main classes started this week, they may still have room for you to join one if you like the freebie.
One of our members, E.V. Legters, is holding a launch party for her second novel, Vanishing Point, on June 4th at the Fairfield County Writers’ Studio from 4-6pm. Come and support her, and enjoy the festivities, and hanging out with fellow writers and readers.
There are several Meetups around for writers, apart from the two I run:
One is headed by Jan Kardys, who organizes the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, in which you can bring 10 pages to be critiqued. The next meeting is on Saturday, May 20th. Check it out here.
There’s a Children’s Writers and Poetry Critique Group meetup in White Plains
Also for poets, the Monroe Poetry Meetup.
A Meetup for Christian writers: Word Weavers of Southern Fairfield County.
And there’s an Open Mic Night in Norwalk Meetup, which includes performances of all kinds, including reading, I think. But check it out by being part of the audience, if you’re not sure whether it’s the right fit for you.
And speaking of telling stories, Barnes and Noble, our gracious hosts in Westport, will be having a regular storytelling evening each month, the first on June 21st. They’re looking for people with a personal story to tell about strong women who’ve had a personal effect on you, experiences where a woman with power helped or hindered you, etc. Like their Facebook page or call in at the store to get updates about how to tell your story.
The New York Pitch Conference, a 3-day event running from June 22-25 offers a wonderful opportunity of meeting agents who might actually be interested in seeing your work. It’s not cheap – so if you haven’t finished your book and got it publication-ready, it’s probably best to wait a while, according to those in the know.
Later in the year, The Ridgefield Writers’ Conference is a one-day event for writers to be held on Friday, September 22nd.
Enter a contest. This one is the Brighton Prize, which exists to find inventive new writing. It’s open for entries until 30th June, and has two categories: short stories between 1000 and 2000 words, and flash fiction under 350 words. The prize for the winning story: £1000, with two runners up getting: £100 each.
Improve your writing or get yourself over the hump by taking a class this summer. There are many around this area. The Fairfield County Writers’ Studio, the Westport Writers’ Workshop and Write Yourself Free are all running classes. IN Rowayton, CT,
Drew Lamm has shorter summer series of her unique writing groups for women: To Taste Life Twice. I’ve been going for some years, and value the peaceful place where I can write with other women, and get Drew’s reactions to the writing. She praises the good, so that we write more of it. And it works. Check the link above and the photo to the left.
If you can’t get to a live class, there are several online options. One is from Gotham in New York, and they have many to choose from – food writing, travel writing, script writing, video game writing, teen creative non-fiction, humor, romance, sci-fi etc
Creative Nonfiction has summer online classes give you the chance to experiment with new subjects or forms in a condensed 5-week format. Classes begin June 26, 2017 and include topics like digital storytelling, science writing for general audiences, historical narratives and experimental forms. Enroll by June 2 to get $50 off.
We talked about the importance of editors and a couple of people mentioned Allison Dickens, who is teaching a class called Nailing Your First 20 Pages -an advanced workshop in novel and memoir. It’s a one-week intensive at the Westport Writers’ Workshop, from 10-12, July 24-28. Another recommended freelance copy editor was Stephanie Finnegan.
Member Ed Ahern mentioned that the online journal he reads submissions for, Bewildering Stories, will always critique your submission, whether it’s accepted or not. Sounds like a good way of getting some feedback, and maybe publication. They accept submissions in all genres.
A couple of places are offering a free book of writing advice if you sign onto their mailing list. One is from Autocrit, The Secret Formula to Publishing a Best-selling Novel, and the other is from Penguin books, The Ultimate Guide to Writing Advice.
If you’re a friend of Poets and Writers, they give you the chance to list your latest publication in the nest Friends News. It’s too late for this year – entries closed on May 15th, but it’s worth bearing in mind for next year. Any book-length publication of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction published after December 2015 (so 2016 next year) is eligible to be listed, as are forthcoming titles. Chapbooks, translations, and self-published works may be included.
Last but not least, for those of you writing a memoir, here’s an interesting article from The Creative Penn. Six Points to Consider When Writing a Memoir.
That should keep you going until next month. See you then. And if you have any additional info, corrections etc, just put them in the comments below. Thanks, and Happy Writing!
Linda Legters’ debut novel, Connected Underneath, is unusual in several respects. Its chief protagonist, Persephone, is a confused teenager whose life becomes even more complicated when her tattooing habit, which she pays for with sex, gets in the way of … Continue reading
To paraphrase the Bard, some people are born writers, some become writers, and others have writing thrust upon them. I suspect today’s author, Barbara W. Klein, falls into the last category, since it was her family that persuaded her to write this book. It bears the unusual title of a glub glub and a shake shake, and is both a family recipe book and a family project, insofar as her editor is her daughter and my friend, editor and published author, Lisa Winkler. Lisa’s sister, Madeline Taylor illustrated it. Not only does this book form a collection of recipes, but the stories behind them pass on the kind of family history that can fast be forgotten in these ephemeral times. Of course, I had a few questions for Barbara.
GC: First of all, how did the title come about?
BWK: The title came about while I was describing a recipe to Lisa, she’d ask me how much of a certain ingredient was needed. One time I said, a ‘glub, glub,’ referring to honey. I’ve heard this expression before and it means an unmeasured amount, to taste. With honey, you turn the bottle over and it’s a ‘glub glub!’ A ‘shake shake’ is similar with spices. You shake a little over meats to taste.
GC: Clearly this book is a family effort. How did you work out who did what?
BWK:It was easy. Madeline is a great artist and has been drawing her whole life. Lisa compiled the recipes and prepared the manuscript for the book designer. All my children and grandchildren suggested recipes for the book.
GC: The recipes come from several different cultures and countries. Can you give us a few examples?
BWK: Couscous is from Tunisia, adapted from our time serving there in the Peace Corps. There are many Jewish recipes that were made by my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law and I perfected them over the years. Lisa brought back the Anzac cookie recipe from Australia when she was an AFS student there.
GC: Who actually prepared the book for publishing? Did the illustrations make it more complicated?
BWK: Lisa’s book designer, Solveig Marina Bang, designed the book with input from all of us. She presented several cover and color options. The illustrations were easy to include in the pdf.
GC: If you could pick two recipes that are your family’s favorites, which would they be, and why?
BWK: That’s a hard question because everyone has their own favorites. If I have to pick two, I’ll say pot roast and matzo brei. But all my pies are top contenders, too.
GC: What was the most fun about doing this project?
BWK: Just remembering how the family got together and helped making meals.
With the rise of self-published books, it’s hard to know which books are worth buying. So when I find one I think is excellent in its class, I like to give them and their authors a shout-out. One such is Monster In My Lunchbox, an illustrated book of family-focused rhyme. The poems are by Leslie Chess Feller and the illustrations by her late sister, Shelley. I asked Leslie how the book came about and her answers were quite unexpected. Read on to find out why.
GC: Can you tell us something about the book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox is a collection of light verse that celebrates family. It includes simpler poems for early readers and others for kids in elementary school and beyond. But it’s also for Moms, Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas. I like to say that anyone who has ever been a kid will get a laugh out of these poems. They are meant for the whole family to enjoy together. Here’s a sample:
GC: How long have you been a poet?
LCF: I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, the second of five siblings. My sister Shelley, older by 15 months, was the alpha sibling and with three younger brothers there was never a dull moment. Our father was a physician who loved the poet Ogden Nash. Whenever he had something to say to our mother, a psychologist, he would do it with a clever Ogden Nash-ian rhyme. And my mother would rhyme right back.
You could tell anybody anything in my family, even our father, if you did it with a poem. Every occasion became a poetic roast. Like my siblings, I began to rhyme as soon as I could write. So when my daughter Dania brought home Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic in the fourth grade, I looked at it and said, “I can do that.”
GC: How did you get your first poems published?
LCF: In 1985, a few of my Kidstuff poems ran in a local newspaper and attracted the attention of editors at a Westport, CT, magazine, Profiles. As soon as I found out they wanted me to do a monthly column and were open to me bringing in an illustrator, I called Shelley. By then, she was the world’s best middle school science teacher. But as a student, she used to get in a lot of trouble for cartooning all over her schoolwork. “Hey, Shelley,” I said. “I’m getting these poems published! Maybe you could do some cartoons?”
GC: Did you continue to publish poetry?
LCF: I did two other light verse columns for Profiles. Both Rhyme or Reason and Poetic License won Connecticut Press Club awards, but ran without illustrations. Soon my editors started assigning me articles which put my writing career on a different track. I went from local articles to the New York Times to national magazines as a freelance journalist for almost thirty years. Writing in light verse became something I enjoyed doing for family events.
GC: What made you decide to publish your poems now?
LCF: This book is also a celebration of a very special sisterhood. Over decades, my sister and I cheerfully perfected the art of never, ever agreeing with each other – except that we didn’t want to fight. Agreeing to disagree was our solution, the catalyst for what became an extraordinary friendship. Shelley died of leukemia two years ago. It was a terrible loss.
Six months afterwards, I was standing in my living room feeling very black. For no reason, I opened a cabinet door. Something fell on the floor in front of me. It was a xerox copy of fifty of my poems with fifty illustrations done by my sister. I had forgotten ever writing them. The fifteen Kidstuff poems in my writer’s portfolio were what I remembered. But at some point, decades ago, I had given more to Shelley and she had chosen to illustrate them.
I felt her right beside me. “Publish these,” Shelley said. The words were sweet. I threw everything out of that cabinet in a mad search for the pen and ink cartoons. Eventually I found 110 of my poems, each with the perfect cartoon. My sister and I disagreed about everything, but clearly we shared the same sense of humor. Monster In My Lunchbox is a collaboration that includes eighty of my favorites.
GC: How are you promoting your book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox was published in November, 2015.
The website is http://www.monsterinmylunchbox.com On the website, you can listen to me read the title poem. Then click links to videos of other poems in the collection.
And I’ve been giving talks and readings at libraries, and for parent groups among others.
Kate Manning’s second novel, My Notorious Life, was six years in the making, and it was worth the wait, so far as I’m concerned. It’s the story of Axie Muldoon, an orphaned child from the streets of 1870’s New York, … Continue reading
I met Chris Knopf at the CrimeConn conference recently, and was intrigued to find that not only is he a writer of several crime series, but is also Connecticut liaison of the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and is one of the publishers at The Permanent Press, which publishes award-winning crime novels. The main protagonist of Cop Job, the sixth novel in Chris’ Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mysteries series, is an intelligent, well-read man who is a master cabinet-maker as well as an amateur sleuth. Sam has a nice way with women, and a sense of humor, too. The novel is somewhere between a crime novel and a thriller, with a little grown-up romance thrown in for good measure, and so well-paced that I found it a pleasure to read.
GC: I don’t read many “thrillers” or gritty crime novels, but I loved your book, Cop Job. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t fit neatly into any category. There’s mystery, suspense, romance and a limited amount of violence. How did you come to write this kind of book, rather than something easier to categorize?
CK: Thanks for that. I like not being pigeon-holed in any particular genre, though most people who are heavily into mysteries would categorized the Sam books as hard-boiled, amateur sleuth. Many years ago my creative director at the ad agency was approached by a Hollywood producer looking for movie concepts. My boss thought it would be fun to get a roomful of copywriters together to brainstorm ideas. Out of this I came up with Sam Acquillo, an ex-corporate burnout who discovered the body of an old lady who’d lived next door. The setting was the Little Peconic Bay in the Hamptons, and included a potential love interest named Amanda. That was all I had, and the partially-written script went nowhere, but about ten years later I turned it into a novel and things went from there.
GC: Your main character, Sam Acquillo, reminds me a little of Spenser (from the novels by the late Robert B. Parker) or Travis McGee (John D MacDonald). They too, were resourceful private eyes with integrity and intelligence who live slightly outside the mainstream. Were these writers/characters favorites of yours?
CK: Yup. Along with Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer. Of those five influences, I always loved Ross MacDonald’s prose and Parker’s dialogue. I also liked Paul Newman’s characters in The Verdict and Nobody’s Fool. Put it all together and stir in my father’s sense of humor and engineering talents, my grandfather’s toughness (a champion boxer) and, of course, my own take on things, and you get Sam Acquillo.
GC: There’s a sense of humor that infuses the book. Is that something you have to think about, or does it come naturally to you when you’re writing? Do you laugh at your own writing?
CK: It comes naturally as I’m writing, though as noted above, my father had a very sardonic wit. I channel some of that. And yes, I often chuckle at Sam’s humor, though usually long after I’ve written the lines when I’m getting the manuscript ready to go to the copy editor.
GC: I know you’ve written two other series, one of which uses Jackie Swaitkowski, who features in the Acquillo books, as the main protagonist. If you had to pick one character to stick with long-term, which would it be?
CK: Sam for sure will always be with me. Jackie, of course, as a key sidekick, will also live on though she could easily turn up again in her own book. I’m probably going to keep Arthur Cathcart’s series as a trilogy. But one should never say never.
GC: You’re very active in Mystery Writers of America. What are the benefits of joining an organization like that?
CK: It’s very important for mystery writers to be part of our rather robust sub-culture. There are lots of conferences, publications, Facebook pages, etc., where we communicate. By we, I mean other writers, commentators, fans, bloggers, etc. It’s a great crowd, and we support each other through thick and thin. I highly recommend joining MWA, but also International Thriller Writers (if you write thrillers), Sisters in Crime (for men and women, though the skew is obviously female) and the International Association of Crime Writers.
David Handler’s writing career has taken him from journalist to writer for films and television to mystery novelist. This prolific author has produced several series of mystery novels, with different detectives in each. The first novel I happened to read was The Coal-Black Asphalt Tomb. It’s the tenth (and latest) in the Berger-Mitry series, which features a mismatched pair of detectives in a small coastal town in Connecticut. The eleventh book, The Lavender Lane Lothario, comes out in February. When David answered my questions, I was fascinated to learn how he develops his characters, and the number of tries it takes to get them right.
GC: You have one of the most unusual setups for a cozy mystery. Your two main characters are about as different as they could be: Desiree Mitry is a black policewoman and her life partner is Jewish New York City film critic, Mitch Berger. What makes the situation unusual, I think is the fact that they both live in a sweet little coastal town in Connecticut. How on earth did you come up with this mix?
DH: Strictly by accident, believe it or not. When I was writing the first book of the series, The Cold Blue Blood, my plan was that it would be about New York City film critic Mitch Berger and his landscape architect wife, Maisie, renting a cottage on Big Sister Island and finding their landlady’s estranged husband buried in the vegetable garden. The first 60 pages or so felt very blah to me so I set the project aside for several months, came back to it and decided to make Mitch a young widower who rents the cottage as a means of trying to heal himself after Maisie’s death. Right away, that gave it a lot more moral weight. When he finds the body a Major Crime Squad homicide investigator is sent to the scene. At first, I wrote him as a black male officer. The dialogue felt flat. So I tried making it a black female officer instead and, wham, sparks started flying and I suddenly realized I was writing a novel about an interracial romance.
GC: I like the town of Dorset, which seems like an amalgam of many little places in Connecticut (apart from its unusually high murder rate). Do you find it restricts your plot opportunities to be in one location?
DH: No, not at all, because what I’m mostly doing is studying people. If you study people then you never seem to run out of ideas. People are endlessly fascinating. My eleventh Berger-Mitry installment, “The Lavender Lane Lothario, will be coming out in February and I have many more ideas for stories to come.
GC: How do you ensure that your technical information is correct? Is it all on Google? And if so, is Google reliable?
DH: I began my career as a journalist so I’m always aiming to be as accurate as I can be. I’m grateful to friends in the profession who provide with me much of the technical detail that I use. Google can be a very valuable resource as well, but you have to be mindful of the reliability of the sites that you are choosing to use as sources. Some are less credible than others.
GC: Tell me honestly – are you a film buff like Mitch, or did you make him up out of thin air?
DH: I am totally Mitch, minus the excess blubber. Think Mitch, except sculpted, and you’ve got me. I spent my entire childhood watching old movies on late night TV and my college and young adult years haunting movie revival houses in Los Angeles and New York City. I began my career as New York cultural correspondent for the Scripps-Howard News Service, which meant I was their Broadway critic and book reviewer. I was also a syndicated television and film critic. In addition – and here’s where I depart a bit from Mitch — I actually wrote for television and films for 20 years before I gave it up to devote my time to being a full-time novelist.
I had been living in Old Lyme, which is the real life model for Dorset, for over ten years before I decided to take a crack at writing about it. I think it’s inevitable that if a writer lives in a place long enough he or she will end up wanting to write about it. That’s just how we’re wired. I had lived exclusively in big cities before I moved here, so this is foreign territory to me. In fact, I am still considered an outsider even though I’ve lived here for 30 years. That’s small town New England! Right now, I’m working on a new Stewart Hoag novel, my first in nearly 18 years. And it has been a genuine joy to write the first two Benji Golden novels, Runaway Man and Phantom Angel. I’d love to keep all three series going. That is certainly my hope.
You can connect with David via his website, Goodreads and Facebook